For 400 years or so, the only evidence to suggest that God had not forgotten his promise to send a Saviour was in the fact that the Lord’s old covenant people had not been wiped out. Their mere existence was the only visible hope that He had not forgotten His Word.
Then, out of nowhere, God’s messenger Gabriel is sent to the Temple in Jerusalem at the exact time that an old priest, Zachariah, was offering incense. The heart of the message is simple. You and your wife, who’s past the years of child-bearing, are going to have a son, a prophet.
Five months later, Gabriel is sent again, only this time to Nazareth and to a teenage girl who is preparing herself for a marriage ceremony to a carpenter. Again, the heart of the message is simple. You, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are going to have a child, and he will be the Son of God.
The next three months, these two women, who happen to be cousins, spend every day together, talking about all that God had promised, rejoicing in anticipation of Israel’s deliverance, and no doubt discussing whatever expectant mothers would have discussed 2000 years ago. While they probably did not discuss brands of strollers, no doubt some of the discussion is that which is still common to women.
After three months, Elisabeth is nearly due, and Mary needs to make to 70 mile journey back home before all the attention that would be directed towards Elisabeth might also result in uncomfortable questions for her, for unlike Elisabeth, Mary is not yet married.
Luke, then, brings us to the scene of the birth of John the Baptist, the man Jesus called in John 5:35, “a burning and a shining light.”
I. IT IS THE FULFILLMENT OF A PROMISE v57-58
While 400 years had passed without a word from God, Luke picks up the redemptive record as if there’s a seamless continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He has stepped back as far as he needed to accomplish his goal of showing the backdrop to the almost simultaneous entrance of the two greatest men in all of history, the prophet John the Baptist, and the Word incarnate, Jesus the Messiah.
A promise was given to Zechariah – 1:13-14
They were promised a son. So after waiting for evidence of the pregnancy, now they awaited evidence that it was a son. There was no gender reveal party. They waited as every woman since Eve had waited, for nine months to learn whether it was a son or daughter.
And sure enough, v57, “she brought forth a son.”
v58 – this event is described as one of “mercy” and was cause for joy.
Indeed, it was a mercy for Zachariah and Elisabeth. She had stated – v25.
So, when word finally breaks that Elisabeth has had a child, the news spreads fast throughout neighbors and relatives. No doubt that was initially met with disbelief, but, sure enough, a son had been born, and everyone rejoices with her.
That’s a statement easy to pass over, but it ought not to be missed. I don’t know if they had a baby shower, but the community rejoiced with Elisabeth, and that honors the Lord.
“Sympathy in one another’s joys and sorrows costs little — and yet is a grace of most mighty power. Like the oil on the wheels of some large engine — sympathy may seem to be a trifling and unimportant thing — yet in reality it has an immense influence on the comfort and well-working of the whole fabric of society. A kind word of encouragement or consolation is seldom forgotten. The heart that is chilled by affliction — is peculiarly susceptible, and sympathy to such a heart is often more precious than gold.” (J.C. Ryle)
But the main point here is that God fulfills His Word.
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)” (Heb. 10:23).
“he is a promising God, and is known to be so by his people; he is eminently and emphatically the Promiser; and all other promisers, and the promises made by them, signify little; but the promises of God are exceeding great and precious, very ancient, free, and unconditional, irrevocable and immutable, and are admirably suited to the cases of his people, and will be fulfilled everyone of them: they include in them things temporal, spiritual, and eternal; things temporal, as that his people shall not want, that their afflictions shall work for good, and that he will support them under all their troubles; things spiritual, as that he will be their God, which takes in his everlasting love to them, and his gracious presence with them, and his protection of them; and that all grace shall be wrought in them, and every blessing of grace bestowed on them: and things eternal; as everlasting glory and happiness; the promise of eternal life was in God’s heart, made in the covenant, and put into Christ’s hands before the world began, and is declared in the Gospel: now God is faithful to all his promises, nor can he fail, or deceive; he is all wise and foreknowing of everything that comes to pass; he never changes his mind, nor forgets his word; and he is able to perform, and is the God of truth, and cannot lie; nor has he ever failed in anyone of his promises, nor will he suffer his faithfulness to fail; and this is a strong argument to hold fast a profession of faith.” John Gill
You that are lost in your sin this evening, you can trust Him. There is no sin he cannot forgive, and no past He cannot wipe away. If you want a new life, come to the Promiser who never fails to be true to His Word.
II. IT IS THE FINISHING OF AN AFFLICTION v59-65 v59 – Since the time of Abraham, God required all Jewish males to be circumcised on the eighth day. (Gen. 17:9-14; Lev. 12:3). This act signified that one was part of God’s covenant community. Since it indicated the addition of one into the community, all the community would gather for the event.
While it wasn’t required by God to name the child on this occasion, that had clearly become the practice.
“and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.” — with the silence of Zachariah, it seems that someone in the community takes what would have been Zacharias’ place in officially naming the child, and while it was more common to be named after the grandfather, naming after the father was not unusual.
v60 – but Zachariah had no doubt informed his wife what Gabriel had said, that the child must be named John. Her response, therefore, is rather blunt, and she makes no mention of Gabriel. Unlike most today that would be bragging of an angelic visit, Elisabeth doesn’t mention it. So her words are met with doubt.
v61-63 – So they make signs to him, which indicates that Zacharias not only was unable to speak but was unable to hear. As far as Zachariah’s concerned the child is already named.
“And they marvelled all.” Why did they marvel? I don’t think it’s because it was such a rare thing in those days for a husband and wife to agree. Again, it may be because he couldn’t hear and yet he agrees with exactly what his wife has said, or it may have simply been the choice of an unusual name.
For the benefit of the youth here this evening, when it comes to the time that you are expecting a child, do not mention names until you’ve named the child. You will choose names, and if you mention them before you have decided, you will inevitably learn that your mother-in-law was bullied by a person of that name, there’s no way you can call her grandchild by that name.
What happens here is an indication of the challenges of dealing with established customs. People are so opposed to change that they will make certain practices rules, and those rules can become more important to people than the very law of God. The choice of the name cuts across the expected norms. While traditions are not necessarily bad, we must be careful that we don’t elevate them too highly.
v64 – His obedience and faith are rewarded, and the affliction is removed.
So how was Zachariah feeling after having been deaf and dumb for over 9 months? Not one complaint. He was rejoicing at the Lord’s mercies because he immediately launches into praise.
He had not heard the praise of Elisabeth or the praise of Mary as they expressed their joy, but he immediately joins in the chorus. The blessing of rejoicing had been withheld from him.
v65 – “And fear came on all that dwelt round about them.” And the sense of the text is that this continued for some time after the event. See Psalm 40:1-3.
III. THE FUTURE OF A PROPHET v66
The declared expectation – “What manner of child shall this be!”
Such is the unusual nature of the birth, it raises among some expectations of what is to come. We never know how any of our children will turn out. How much then we must pray for God’s divine favor.
The divine reality – “And the hand of the Lord was with him.”
The first 12 times you find the term “hand of the Lord” in the Bible, it indicates God’s hand of judgment upon his enemies, and sometimes upon his own people, e.g. as Naomi said, “it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13). The first time it is used and doesn’t indicate some direct judgment, it refers to Elijah. “And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.” (1 Kings 18:46).
Following that, others experience the same, such as Ezra. But often it deals with judgment. Thus, perhaps that’s why the Spirit of God uses this term with regard to God in the life of John. First, he is like unto Elijah. That was said by Gabriel. Second, his work was not just to point to Christ, but to bring a sense of God’s judgment upon the land.